Belief, Gnostics, God, Gospels, Jesus, John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, New Testament

The Bad Seed

“verily thou hast done unwisely…vex me not”

The Bible we have is a book in one volume, and so we read it as if it’s a book in one volume. But it’s really a whole bunch of books, and gospels, and pieces of poems, like a Lutheran hot dish, which is why we have Protestantism.

There are more Christian gospels in the world than appear in the New Testament.

Thomas the Israelite1 wrote an infancy gospel, probably in the 2nd century CE. (Or, at least, that’s the guess, and the dating of the earliest primary document.) It’s important to know that something not being written down doesn’t make it illegitimate, any more than something written down is legitimate. No one, from the late 100s to now, has been keen on including Thomas the Israelite’s infancy gospel, or any other infancy gospel, and the excuses are largely about its timing: it wasn’t written down soon enough. It’s almost 200 years after the birth/death of Jesus, and isn’t written by Someone Who Was There. (A gospel being written by Someone Who Was There became a main measuring stick still used today when judging whether something is Bible-worthy or not. Unless it’s by a woman who was there and then we immediately jettison it, so its part of the ecosystem that the species Dans brown live on.) But even today we have books about people written by other people who Were Not There. They’re called history books and biographies.

Infancy gospels would be very important, and a lot of early Christian apologists would have loved to find a legitimate infancy gospel to fill in those missing years where Jesus appears to not do much. (This leads to everything from “Jesus traveled to India and became a Buddhist master” to “he traveled to Arabia in order to become a magus.” As inconsistent as Christian apologists are — and they are very inconsistent — they do grant that they are check-mated here and have no documentation to support their idea that Jesus didn’t do these things. I’ve got more to say about this, but it’s in that footnote you passed.)

Apologists’ inability to believe in infancy gospels doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They do. And the reason apologists might stay away is often insufferably unpleasant.

In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas2, Thomas tells us that Jesus killed the following people:

– The son an Annas, who mucks up a pretty pool Jesus created on the Sabbath, by withering him either like or literally into a fig tree. (You may remember Annas from Jesus Christ Superstar and the song “This Jesus Must Die.” One of the reasons might be because Jesus killed his kid.)

– A kid who bumped into him. (When the kid’s parents complained to Joseph — “What if he blessed people instead of cursing them?” — Joseph had a talk with Jesus, who carefully explained that he was Very Right to kill that kid, and then Jesus blinded his accusers. Joseph tried again to parent Jesus, and Jesus said, “You’re working my last nerve, Joe. Pray you don’t finish.”)

– Probably this other kid named Zeno, who “fell off the roof.” When that kid’s parents told Joseph, Jesus immediately ran to the corpse and brought it to life so it could exonerate him.

In an infancy gospel from the late 600s/early 700s, “Pseudo-Matthew,” Jesus doesn’t kill anyone. Instead, no one can eat unless Jesus is at the table, and when Jesus isn’t at the table no one eats. Also, Jesus is surrounded by “the brightness of God” day and night which would make him impossible to share a room with.

The Syrian Infancy Gospel (c. late 400s) shows that people keep dumping dirty Jesus water on sick kids, with miraculous results. No little amount of time is spent cataloging attempts by people trying to steal the bathwater to throw on lepers. (There’s also a dragon in this gospel which is defeated with some of Jesus’s soiled laundry.)

Later, Jesus becomes angry with some boys who are too good at hide-and-seek so he turns them into goats. Oh, and one time Jesus dressed himself up as a king and made his friends drag people from the road to honor him.

The Divinity of Jesus

There are competing theories in the gospel about the Divinity of Jesus. You may not know that there are competing theories, because the New Testament is presented as unified and inerrant. But you’ve got your Incarnationists over here, and your Adoptionists over there, and here’s how they differ.

Incarnationists believe that God was incarnated on Earth in Jesus, who also existed with God from one moment before the beginning of everything. So actually, there’s a schism right there with the Incarnationsts. Some believe that Jesus only existed from the beginning in the way that your ability to pull off a convincing English accent existed from birth: something you could do, but not something you were always doing. Jesus is a unique experience God has on earth. And then some, like, for instance, the writer of the Gospel of John, believe that Jesus and God are the same, and have always existed, but are separate, but not different, and God has always been God and Jesus, and Jesus has always been Jesus and God. For this narrative, btw, you need to fix a bunch of plot holes; but because the plot holes are terminal plot holes, fixing them only makes everything hole-ier. For instance, if Jesus is divine from the very beginning, he needs a pristine and spotless womb. And a pristine and spotless womb cannot even have caught a flashing glimpse of a penis let it be awashed in schiaparelli sin and that’s absolutely no house for a savior. But we also have Original Sin to contend with. How spotless and pristine can a womb be if its bearer is tainted? So now we have to remember that Mary was conceived without original sin. But she can’t be supernatural — that doesn’t exist. She’s not divine, or demi-divine. Except when she is. She’s a human woman, because Jesus has to be born of a human woman. But she has to be so extraordinary as to almost negate her humanity. And then if this were a sonata, I’d put one of those repeat signs so you would know to go back and repeat this again, every 50 years, until you die.

It’s bonkers.

Adoptionists believe that Jesus was born entirely human. Mary is human, Jesus is human, God is God, and doesn’t notice Jesus until (a) his baptism in the Jordan by John; (b) his crucifixion; or (c) his resurrection. In this case, God notices how great Jesus has been and gives him Employee of the Year. The Gospel of Mark in the New Testament is an Adoptionist gospel. (People will argue with me and I just won’t listen.) Mark knows nothing about Jesus’s birth, the angels, the annunciation, the magi, the stars. Mary, his mother, is mentioned only once and she has no speaking lines. Jesus becomes divine at the moment of baptism, when the “heavens [are] torn apart,” the Spirit descends (who is this “spirit”? Another time, my ducks), and a voice comes from haven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (All quotations from Mark 1:9-11 in the NRSV.)

Matthew and Luke are also sometimes viewed as Adoptionist. Jesus does not become divine until Mary conceives. Matthew and Luke do not say anything about Jesus’s eternalness. So we’ll add a (pre-a) to the above list and say “until his conception.”

John is the only wholly Incarnationist gospel we have in the New Testament.

This is a little bit of an issue for the gap we have when we take all gospels together. Combined, here is what we know:

pre-birth to birth: check
1ish to 12: absolutely nothing
12: check (he’s a rabbi now)
12 to 29: absolutely nothing
30 to 33: busy

We have nothing in the New Testament that fills those gaps. If Jesus was an incarnation of God — God made Flesh — you’d think that would be remarked on. Initially some very excited shepherds visit. We get some Persian magician-spies. And that’s it. This extraordinary event — a magical star, angels everywhere, prophecies — is forgotten. Kinda like the One Ring, I guess? But not really. Here’s a kid, born of a young woman, who might or might be a virgin depending on how you translate, and he’s not lying at the bottom of a river covered in silt. He’s around! He’s in his community! And unlike the way we’ve pubertized magic in popular culture, where wizardy kids don’t have control over their sexua– sorry, magic, until pubert– sorry, until they learn to control their orgas. Shit. Unlike that, there’s no sense that Jesus has to “control his powers” because Jesus is God and God is not a horny teen witch. (Unless he is!)

So if we’re to understand Jesus in an Incarnationist context, this knowledge gap is puzzling. However, if we are rational Markan Adoptionists, then that gap is explained by an entire Portnoise of all the very boring same things that all teens do. He’s not the Christ yet. He hasn’t been adopted by God down by the river.

Infancy gospels are an Incarnationist genre. They’re wild, and I love them. They’re also necessary for belief, but not convenient for it. They sit uneasily next to stories of Jesus’s meekness and humility, and run counter to his own ambivalence about his divinity. They’re flawed portraits by flawed people, looking for a savior who might look like them.


Footnotes

1 Some of you may know about the gnostic Secret Gospel of Thomas. Thomas the Israelite, to whom this infancy gospel is attributed, is not that Thomas. Unless he is. But mostly probably not.]

2 None of the gospels we have — both in the New Testament and those left out — came with titles. They didn’t have chapters or verses, either. All of that stuff is added later, and titles like Pseudo-Matthew were/are used primarily to scare people away and reaffirm that they’re Not Really Gospels. But they are.

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